Arriving to Tasajera

Rain had been pouring in El Salvador for 2 days already by the time me, Carlos Escalante, and volunteers from His Children Foundation, were on the road to Tasajera last Saturday Oct. 17. It had been one year and two months since I last saw Carlos, and he picked me up outside the house I was staying in San Salvador at 5:52am on that day.

With grey cloudy skies and raindrops in my face I made my initial approach to the island; I was walking into my new workplace.

Volunteers of His Children Foundation and the local women’s group Sea Artisans were scheduled to distribute to the community donations from Mansfield University; which included clothing, shoes, and toys. This activity was performed successfully and the donations were given to 200+ families.

Surrounding the donations event, I made my goal to contact my most trusted ally in the community: Pastor Aristides Arce. The report from him was not as favorable as I expected. We sat under the palm hut behind his church, and I noticed he was hesitant to open up directly to me, waiting for me to express my intentions upfront.

After a few minutes, we quickly regain the trust we were used to. He explained some community members were not satisfy with the way I have been helping the community, as they thought I was channeling help for certain groups and not to others. I explained to Pastor that I was aware of my lack of communication with the community, and that this time I intent to communicate well with the community leaders about EMANA and its vision with Tasajera regarding education. After a 1:45 hour long conversation and a hot chocolate and pastry, I was pleased with having his blessing.

Later than evening, I met with Luis Recio, a Spanish student who is living in Tasajera since July and is working in there with a regional NGO called CORDES. Luis is one of the many Alcala University students that volunteer every year in this region, and he is an Environmental Scientist. This was no surprise, as we knew we would meet up since early June when I was visiting Edgar Hita, director of Central America Cooperation program, while in Madrid.

Our conversation with Luis was great, we agreed on working together in developing a waste management plan for Tasajera and carry out organic farming workshops together. Luis also agreed to provide support from his side to EMANA’s project to develop a Summer School Program and improve education in Tasajera. All in all, we are going to make great things together.

Luis Rodriguez, a current EMANA member, was also in Tasajera and we agreed to work together in the development of the Steering Committee and ADESCO.

Right before leaving Tasajera on Sunday, I met with Walter Pena, president of the Local Association for Development (ADESCO) to discuss the development of a Steering Committee with community members, school teachers, and other stakeholders to lead and oversee the School Program and other sustainable development goals.

I left Tasajera Island with a clear vision of the challenges and opportunities ahead of me, and after arranging all the necessary things, I will return to Tasajera to start the implementation process at the end of this week. stay tuned.

Thanks for your attention.


Supporting Progress: WOMEN

Climate change, government corruption, and economic turmoil are complex issues that require complex solutions. Such is the greater context in which we found the community of the Island of Tasajera, El Salvador back in 2009. The community of 1,846 inhabitants living under the poverty line have been on a steady decline becoming poorer over time.

In November 2013, we set out to understand the root of the situation and formed a Community Diagnose task force. This group, led by Salvadoran and psychology student Carlos Escalante and funded by EMANA, studied and surveyed the Tasajera community to understand 7 key aspects: History, Habitability, Economy, Education, Recreation, Governance & Participation, and Perception of their future. An initial goal of this study was also to locate areas of potential development, of which the lack of women’s involvement in all socio-economic spheres of Tasajera was a clear conclusion throughout the study.

Women,” as Carlos describes, “are hard working stay-at-home wives and mothers, they wake up early to get the ingredients and make food for their family, then stay busy with the cleaning of the house; a difficult task in their coastal & sandy environment.” “They complained that men are usually sleeping when they are not fishing,” Carlos continued, adding that “women have a lot of potential to assist in the development of their community“. This was not a problem 10 years ago, when fish stocks were abundant. Every time a husband would return from the ocean brought with him plenty of fish to sell and provided for the house and family. To this day, more often than not, fishermen return home empty handed and continue piling up dept.IMG_1517

Although environmental pollution is a major problem, fish decline is mostly attributed to the booming fish industry continually abuses their permits throughout the coast line since 2000. As the community has witnessed a steady decline of their economy and increasing poverty, Carlos advocates it is crucially important to empower women with an encouraging environment, “making sure they know they can contribute to the progress of their community.”

As described in our About page,

“…When we determine an imminent need, we design a development project that will satisfy such need.”

On July 7th, EMANA, under the direction of Carlos E., have partnered with the community of Tasajera to create a woman’s group called “EMANA Youth: women entrepreneurs” in which we will engage with 22 young women in a regular basis to develop business ideas and unlock their potential. At this point the project is about teaching them how to make hand-made jewelry and crafts that can be sold to tourist of neighboring regions and in the United States and the world.

I asked Carlos Escalante to share a little bit about his experience in Tasajera and the goals of the newly created Emana Youth initiative. This is what he wrote:

“Anyone visiting the island realizes the great needs of its people in terms of poverty and social exclusion. Through the information gathered in the Community Diagnosis, we were able to visualize and comprehend the nature of various issues affecting the community today. In this effort, not only we managed to describe the community present situation but the historical factors that have contributed to its occurrence. Also, we identified distinct psychological and social factors that are part of the effects of historical institutional neglect, natural disasters, and a vast of socio-economic issues that have affected the community. This factors include mistrust in interpersonal relationships, broken community sense, and gender issues. Aside from the serious effort of trying to understand and describe the community, we also managed to establish invaluable relations with lots the inhabitants; this being the best part of this experience.

EMANA Youth participants on a jewlery workshop
EMANA Youth participants on a jewlery workshop

 The Community Diagnosis of Tasajera Island has been a process that has allowed me and the ones involved to get closer to the people and their daily routines. Throughout this process we paid attention to a series of comments made by the local participants on their perception and expectation of their future. These comments revolve around the idea of eagerly expecting a ‘maquila‘ or a big industry to come in and provide jobs for everyone. These statements sum up the feelings of abandonment, scares opportunities, and lack of personal confidence from which we considered that youth should be our working priority.

EMANA Youth initiative was conceived in response to this situation. The initial concept was to organize a mixed group of men and women to gather and make a sustainable project for them to achieve alternative solutions to the issues affecting the community. This idea brought in practice some constraints, which made us narrow the focus of the group. We decide to focus on the most vulnerable ones in the community: women.  Most of the strongest community issues in Tasajera affect women the most, yet remain invisible to the outsider; such as domestic violence, early pregnancy, lack of recreational spaces and activities, limited life plan, etc.

This project has begun with an initial goal of granting a group of 22 women alternatives on recreation, economic growth, organization, and strengthening relationships.  We have taken the first steps by supporting them with materials and teaching how to make handmade jewelry as they think about business strategies in the region.  During the first part of each session we make use of games and interactive dynamics to strengthen ties within the group and work on issues such as teamwork, coexistence, and relationships. The income gathered from sold jewelry will be a motivational aspect to achieve maintenance and self-sustainability in the group. With this project we aim to give women new perspectives on their possibilities and organizational capacity to help them find better solutions for their daily reality.” – CARLOS ESCALANTE